Showing posts from May, 2014

It's how God works

I prayed for my friend David, but couldn't see how God could really help him. David's on the sex offender registry. He was wrongly convicted, but that makes little difference. The courts said he was guilty, so that makes him a sex offender, and the sex offender spin-off makes his life hell. He can't live in many neighborhoods because of the proximity of schools, etc. Neighbors know about the registry, and they're wary. Police know about his whereabouts, and they keep a constant eye on him. Besides all that, he's on disability, so he cannot get a job. He has no money, no family to help, and so he lives on a very small monthly income and an inadequate supply of food stamps. He has learned how to survive with almost nothing, and with almost no help. And yet, over time, he has proven himself. Many in the community have come to know him, and realize that he's an OK guy, a straight shooter. He's angry about the way the system treated him, but he

Some thoughts on prisons in the U.P.

Pete Martel raised an interesting point in a recent speech. The representative from the American Friends Service Committee was addressing a group of seniors in Holland. He wondered out loud why the Michigan Department of Corrections opted to close one of the Detroit prisons, when it came to down-sizing, instead of one in the Upper Peninsula. We know that legislators and voters in the UP are opposed to closing any of the prisons up there (we have 8 of them!) because they provide jobs. In fact, the MDOC is a major employer in those communities. So politically it would be unwise to close a northern Michigan prison. But how much sense does it make to keep them up and running, otherwise? To answer that question you must acknowledge several points here--- 80% of prisoners and their families are very poor The heaviest population in the state is in the southeast sector Thus, most of the state's prisoners come from that part of the state This means that many of the priso

When prisoners say "Thanks!"

One of the early lessons in life comes from your mother and father: Remember to say “please” and especially “thank you.” Many prisoners obviously forgot some of the early lessons in life, or they wouldn't be where they are today. But we will be the first to tell you that many have NOT forgotten the early lesson of saying “thank you.” And that means so much to those of us trying to help them. Matt and I were overwhelmed with tokens of thanks in the past week. Three separate financial gifts arrived from prisoners; two from individuals, and one from a PBF or Prisoner Benefit Fund. Each prison facility has a PBF. The moneys come from places like the prison store, the prison vending machines, etc. And a committee made up of two prisoners and two staff members makes recommendations to the warden as to how this money should be spent. Most of it goes toward services, equipment and supplies that will improve the lot of prisoners. But they are also allowed to make contributio

When little is much

Matt and I were reminded of that widow who Jesus watched dropping two pennies into the temple treasury, as I opened the mail yesterday. For some reason contributions to HFP came to a screeching halt 4 days in a row; the kind of drought that gives us concern. Things seemed exceptionally quiet after a highly successful matching fund promotion last month. I became all that more disheartened when I found no donor envelopes in the post office box...instead, more envelopes from prisoners. Invariably that means more HFP work, and for the moment, no compensation. I opened envelope #1---a $10 money order from a prisoner in the U.P. whom we had helped. I opened envelope #2---A $200 donation from the Prisoner Benefit Fund at Kinross Correctional Facility, thanks to the recommendation of a fine group of prisoners belonging to the National Lifers Association. I opened envelope #3---A $20 gift check from a dear friend in the women's prison at Ypsilanti. These three unexpected gifts

The real hero remains on his throne

There are times when we appear to be heroes, and that is not the case. Our most recent effort to improve the lot of a mentally challenged female inmate is a perfect example. After we had authenticated the daily reports that we were receiving from behind prison walls, we knew something had to be done. And so we began the thing we do best: pushing buttons and pulling strings below the radar. That's one of the reasons HFP's profile is so low. We have dozens of contacts, many of them at high levels, who are willing to help behind the scenes. First reports indicated that this girl had been hog-tied, wearing no clothing. We tried several maneuvers, but sad reports continued...the woman was forced to sleep on a bare steel slab. No mattress, no blanket. These are violations of the 8th Amendment, according to our lawyer. We worked our contacts from every angle, and we pushed hard. We finally aimed our cannon all the way to the top. Still no response. In frustration we ha

Are we crying "Wolf?"

“You should mix in more good stories with the bad.” The advice came from a well-meaning supporter of HFP, and he was referring to our daily dispatches on our email network. Each day Matt and I work on brief messages to give an insight into the work of this ministry. And frankly, it isn't pretty. We made an attempt to lighten our message today, for example, with a thank you note from a prisoner who appreciated all of our work in just trying to help a dying inmate. But the real story was much more grim. The inmates had been complaining that the man wasn't being treated properly, and even though he was critically ill he was not granted a compassionate release by the non-compassionate State of Michigan. He died alone behind bars in the prison hospital. Without hospice care. And while there may be bright sides to some of our stories (we did help to improve the toilet paper situation for women, we were able to obtain some heat for a chilly prison unit last winter, we prodd

Treating prisoners worse than animals

Matt and I got a dose of reality last week. We had been invited to an in-service training session by a local attorney who likes and supports the work of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. He had recently won settlements in two cases of cruel and unusual punishment of mentally ill inmates, and he wanted to give us pointers as to when there might be violations of the 8th Amendment. But here was the shocker: He informed us that treating prisoners like animals is not bad enough...the courts won't look at those cases. The only time there is grounds for a civil suit, he said, is when the prison system treats an inmate worse than an animal. Only then is it time to consider action. He gave an example of a mentally ill prisoner who injured his finger behind bars, and it didn't get treated properly. It got infected, he was taken to the hospital, and the finger was amputated. Not cruel and unusual punishment, said the lawyer. But when the inmate was returned to jail, he was refused his